Two Back to School Teaching Goals

I've been spending a lot of time this past week discussing different visions for the coming school year. Our new district superintendent has laid out three core values: Joy, Pride, and Focus. Our principal continues to ground our school's work in Accountability, Courage, and Excellence. Both of these sets of values resonate with me. Also, I find it important to take time to craft my own focus and vision for the upcoming school year.

As I left school today, these two phrases were echoing in my mind.

1. Go for broke.

I will not fear of what ifs guide my actions this year. The only what if I will focus on is "What if I do nothing?" I am thoughtful to a fault, and I do not want my thinking to paralyze my actions. So I want to guide myself this year by asking what are the consequences of inaction or silence?

This is the year where I must put my money where my mouth is. I think, speak, and write about equity and racial justice constantly. It is time for this mental work to show tangible dividends for my students. I have a lot that I am proud of as a teacher, but I can also say it is not good enough. Not by a long shot. Not at a time when my kids are threatened by larger forces like Betsy Devos, and in more personal, immediate ways like teachers who see them as a collection of deficits or pathologies.

It is time to go for broke. I will call out white supremacy unequivocally. I will call out misogyny, homophobia, and Islamophobia. I will put myself to work reflecting on my own bullshit and hold myself accountable relentlessly.

2. Do good work.

Holding myself to a standard of going for broke is fair and necessary. But I know myself, and unchecked it could be a way for me to beat up on myself unproductively. Therefore, I will measure my actions and my teaching by a simple metric: Did I do good work? I have been teaching and/or learning about teaching for 10 years now. I am still learning but I know what good teaching involves. My lesson planning, my outreach to families and the community, my interactions with kids and my instruction need to be on point. I know what good teaching feels like. So I need to trust my gut to guide my work and to hold myself to a simple but effective standard of excellence.

Ten years ago when I was struggling to stay afloat as a first year teacher I told myself that if the job was ever about the paycheck it was time to quit. That remains true today. I don't think I'm anywhere close to being motivated in that way, but I think it's a valuable reminder that there's no excuse for sliding by on what's easy or convenient. The kids I teach deserve good teaching and that's what I intend to give them every day this year.

Teaching is hard work. Teaching in New York City is harder. Teaching at a renewal school serving one of the highest poverty communities in the city is even harder. I will enjoy this work. I will give myself space to reflect, to breathe, and to make mistakes. But I will also aim for simplicity this year in my vision. Starting tomorrow I'll focus on these two guiding statements: Go for broke and do good work.

Wish me luck!


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